“A Call to Life: Variations on a Theme of Extinction”: Unique Pianist/Philosopher NAU Earth Day Performance Calls for Action on Extinction

Words alone cannot express the urgency of saving the planet’s great diversity of plants and animals from extinction, philosopher/writer Kathleen Dean Moore and concert pianist Rachel McCabe believe. So they have turned to music, joining forces to create a dual performance, “A Call to Life: Variations on a Theme of Extinction.”

For the project, Moore weaves a call to safeguard Earth’s abundance into McCabe’s performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme of Corelli.” The synergy of words and music creates what an audience member called “as powerful a message as one could imagine.”  “It is at once devastating and inspiring, despairing and hopeful,” wrote ocean conservationist Mark Hixon, who heard the performance in Hawaii.

The performance takes place Monday April 24 from 7:00-8:00pm at Ardrey Auditorium on NAU’s campus. Free tickets are available at the NAU Box Office and at the door. Complimentary parking in lot P13 behind Cline library. For permits go to: nau.edu/parking-shuttle-services/ manage-my-parking/.

Rachel McCabe, left, and Kathleen Dean Moore. Photo by Zachary Person.
Rachel McCabe, left, and Kathleen Dean Moore. Photo by Zachary Person.

The unusual creative collaboration began when Moore spoke in despair from the podium at Oregon State University several years ago. “If these rates of extinction continue,” she said, “I will die in a world that is half as abundantly beautiful as the one I was born into.  My children will tear out half the pages in their field guides and throw them away. They won’t need them ever again.”

Listening from the audience, concert pianist Rachelle McCabe nodded in agreement. “Words can’t do it,” she thought.  “But music has that power. And words and music together?”  As Moore left the stage, McCabe stopped her in the aisle and suggested a collaboration.

That was the beginning of “A Call to Life: Variations on a Theme of Extinction.” Unity College president emeritus Mitch Thomashow, who caught the performance in Seattle, called it “. . . truly exceptional. The power, eloquence, wisdom, urgency, and insight of the presentation, the synergy of the music and the reading was brilliant. .  . an emotional connection to the planetary emergency.”

Moore and McCabe have collaborated before, team-teaching Oregon State University courses that merged philosophy and music to explore concepts such as love, nature, evil, and music itself.  But the extinction collaboration involved an intensity of feeling and effort neither had experienced before.

“I knew from the start that it had to be Rachmaninoff,” McCabe explained. The piece she chose is what she calls “a formidable piece of music to address a formidable global issue.”  Written during a dark period in Rachmaninoff’s life, the deeply expressive music gives voice to all the grief and yearning in the human heart.

Over a period of several months, Moore listened intently as McCabe played the music and spoke of its meaning for her. Then Moore began to write words to weave over and between the variations.  “It was the most intense writing I’ve ever done,” Moore said. “We were trying to open people’s hearts without breaking them. But often, as we worked, we were both in tears.”

“This is a call to conscience, to caring, and a call to action,” Moore says. “All around the world, people are standing up to say, ‘not another mountaintop, not another river, not another forest can be destroyed for human profit.  These are not industry’s to take or sell. They belong to the future of the everlasting Earth.’ Now we are saying it with music.”

Kathleen Dean Moore is a career philosopher, nature writer, and veteran climate advocate best known for her ability to weave ideas and emotions in her lectures and books. She is the author or co-editor of a dozen books, including Riverwalking, Great Tide Rising, and the newest, a novel, Piano Tide.  Rachelle McCabe, concert pianist and Professor of Music at Oregon State University, enjoys an international career as an artist-teacher and as a solo recitalist and highly respected chamber musician. She has performed extensively in the United States, Canada, Southeast Asia and England, and has been heard on NPR’s Performance Today, the CBC, and PBS television.


“Rachelle’s haunting piano and Kathleen’s clear voice so effectively and engagingly spanned the emotions surrounding environmental destruction.  The synergy and contrast were amazing — at once devastating and inspiring, despairing and hopeful.  The tone of Kathleen’s voice is so beautifully childlike, yet what she says reflects the ancient wisdom of Mother Earth herself. “

– Mark Hixon, Hsiao Endowed Chair in Marine Biology, University of Hawaii; former chair, Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee


“An amazing experience that was deeply moving, profoundly disturbing, but never dispiriting.”

Bonnie Esbensen, concert pianist, Corvallis, OR


“”A Call to Life” was truly exceptional. I had no idea what to expect. I was deeply moved by the power, eloquence, wisdom, urgency, and insight of the presentation. The synergy of the music and the reading was brilliant. Why? Because there was such integrity in the sharing of voices. The symmetry between the two of you was magnificent. The Rachmaninoff piece (and the performance) was stunning and the language (and delivery) sent me to so many different places, mainly emotional. And that’s what I needed. Not another intellectual experience, but rather a revitalization of the emotional connection to the planetary emergency.”

–Mitchell Thomashaw, former president, Unity College

Sponsored by: Sustainable Communities Master’s Program, Sustainable Citizen Program, & NAU’s Environmental Caucus